HARRISON TOWNSHIP — The only thing I knew for sure, when I met up with Kevin Long at the Harley Ensign launch ramp on Lake St. Clair, is that we were going bass fishing. So when he asked if I had any particular presentation in mind, I told the truth: I had as bad a case of fisherman's elbow as I'd ever had and if we were going to chunk and wind all day, I was going to be one sore puppy by the time it was over.
He smiled, knowingly, and said he had me covered. We shot across the upper end of the lake, roared up the Middle Channel, and shut down. Long handed me a rod and announced that we were going to drift and drag.
It's simple presentation that works wonders when fishing in deep water with current. Cast up-current, hang on, and let the boat do the rest.
I was fishing with a tube on a 3/8th ounce jighead. Long was using a drop-shot rig with a swim bait about a foot above the weight. Now it was just a matter of seeing what they wanted, he said.
I missed a fish, then caught one, then missed another. Long had seen enough. He put up the drop-shot rig and grabbed a tube.
"I always start out with two different rigs and see what's working," explained the 39-year-old veteran bass angler. "One day it's one, the next day it's the other. There's no rhyme or reason to it. It's whatever they want that day." Indeed, I've seen this movie before. A couple of autumns back — fishing with Long on the south shore of the lake — I stayed with the drop-shot rig all day. The fish had expressed a decided preference for the tube. Long out-fished me by at least three to one, maybe more, that day.
We drifted along the edge of the channel in 20 feet of water, bouncing our baits off the rocky bottom.
"This is a summer deal, kind of a basic pattern," Long said. "When the weather gets hot, you've still got cool water coming from Lake Huron coming down the channels. Cool water and current means there will be fish feeding there.
"That's not to say you can't get on them out on the main lake in deep water, you can. But this is kind of a no brainer." And just what the doctored ordered for tendinitis, too.
We drifted maybe a mile between Dickinson Island and Harsens Island, catching fish here and there. They were gorgeous smallmouths, the kind of fish that have given Lake St. Clair its well-deserved reputation as one of the best smallmouth fisheries in two countries. Long cranked up the outboard motor and ran back up and we drifted through again, catching a few more.
The best part? I only had to make half dozen casts or so per mile as Long kept the boat going downstream at roughly the same speed as the current.
"You're not really vertical jigging like you do when walleye fishing," he said. "It's more like drifting with the wind in the lake. But, ideally, you do want the boat to go the same speed as the current." After our second trip down the Middle Channel, Long opted for a change of scenery. We ran up channel into the North Channel, swung downstream a little, shut down and commenced with the same drill. The results were the same; we weren't loading the boat, but we were catching them steadily enough that it didn't make any sense to change what we were doing.
We were fishing with braided line to which Long had tied a length of fluorocarbon leader, using an Albright knot, a far easier knot to tie than a blood knot, which is what I use. It's a trick that Long picked up in Florida (he guides on Lake Okeechobee in the winter months) and one I'm glad he showed me. If you don't use braided line, you're missing a bet when it comes to deep-water jigging, and the fluorocarbon removes any lingering doubt you may have about line visibility.
The fish were good, probably averaging close to three pounds with a few that would scare the heck out of four thrown in. The fish are running about that size this year, Long said.
"The lake's in great shape. Everything's healthy. I had four 100 fish days by early June. Last year we only had three all year." We weren't going to do near those kinds of numbers this day. We'd gotten on the water about 10 a.m. and it was one of those blistering hot July days that saps your resolve. By 2:30, I'd had as much as I'd wanted.
Besides, we'd accomplished the mission. We caught 20 bass (as well as a handful of big rock bass and one dandy walleye) and only one of the smallies would have needed the measuring board had we been putting them in the live well. Our best five would have weighed 18-plus pounds, which may not have won the tournament, but was the best day of bass fishing I'd had this summer.
Long said if I had a mind to, I could meet up with him and try it again.
"It should be like this for another month," he said.
It's tempting. But Long also guides for muskies in the fall and I'd rather save that invite for later.